Don’t get me wrong. I am deeply glad that they are studying the negative effects of weight stigma. But I am wondering when this will finally be considered obvious. I am waiting for the moment when somebody says, “shaming fat people is bad” and the primary response is, “well, duh”.
I recently read this study which was released as an online precursor to publication in Obesity magazine. The study seeks to understand the affect that weight stigma and discrimination on conditions like depression and overall quality of life. As the study states:
Weight stigma is often cited as a potential mechanism leading from obesity to poorer psychological well-being [4, 5, 7, 9]. Prejudice against individuals with obesity is pervasive and rarely challenged in Western society . As a result, many individuals with obesity, and particularly those with severe obesity, report being discriminated against because of their weight in their everyday lives [11, 12]. Given that weight stigma and discrimination have both been shown to have a negative impact on psychological health outcomes, including well-being , depression [13, 14], self-esteem and self-acceptance [13, 15], and body image dissatisfaction [13, 16], this might explain why people with obesity suffer psychologically.
You would think that this had been studied in depth before. However, according to the introduction of the study, this hasn’t previously been explored in a lot of depth. According to the study:
Only one study to our knowledge has tested the mediating effect of weight-related discrimination, showing a significant reduction in the association between obesity and self-acceptance after adjusting for perceived weight discrimination . None have examined the role of discrimination in relation to more global indices of psychological well-being, such as quality of life or depression. The aim of the present study was therefore to investigate the extent to which perceived weight discrimination mediates associations between obesity and three markers of well-being: quality of life, life satisfaction, and depressive symptoms.
In other words, many studies have suggested that fat people experience a lesser Quality of Life (QOL) than thin people. However, this study seeks to determine whether that reduction in Quality of Life is simply because of person’s body size or whether it is caused by the world’s reaction to their body size. I won’t keep you hanging too long. The study determines that 40% of the person’s reduction in QOL is from perceived discrimination.
We used mediation models with bootstrapping to test the proposition that associations between obesity and well-being are mediated by weight discrimination and found that approximately 40% of the total effect of obesity on psychological well-being could be explained by perceptions of weight discrimination.
This is I think an important distinction. So much in the “War on Obesity” suggests that the solution is for all fat people to simply lose weight. The study suggests that the reason fat people are depressed might be–in large part–the “War on Obesity”. As Ragen Chastain frequently states in her blog, Dances with Fat, “The way to deal with oppression is not to remove people from the oppressed group. The way to deal with oppression is to fight the oppression.” And I have to wonder to what extent this 40 percent takes into account the internalized oppression experienced by people of size.
I hope that this, along with so many other studies regarding the harm caused by weight stigma will finally convince some of the folks in the Obesity War to consider the harm they are causing–the millions of lives ruined by “friendly fire” in this war that makes people sadder and sicker rather than healthier or happier. And I hope that those proponents of “tough love” and “the ends justify the means” will reconsider their stance. Because in the case of weight stigma, love is indeed very tough to come by. And when the ends are actually worse that the starts, it’s time to carefully consider some new means.
Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
P.S. Want to hear me speak about weight stigma at your school or organization? Learn more about me here.